“We really have a great community,” said Southern Utah University Community Engagement Center associate director Pam Branin. “It’s nice to live someplace where we can really help each other out.”
For the past few years, Branin said the Community Engagement Center has coordinated with the Volunteer Center of Iron County and Iron County Care and Share under the umbrella “Iron County Holiday Assistance” in an effort to streamline Christmas help for families who need it.
Branin said that previous years had been much more chaotic and difficult to manage on a community-wide level, because the various programs weren’t communicating with each other. As a result, she said some families would get more help, and other less, some would even go without help, because they would slip through the cracks.
Now, the Community Engagement Center and the Volunteer Center of Iron County – who also runs the “Angel Tree” program – handle all material donations like toys, and clothing, and the entire food portion of the “Iron County Holiday Assistance” program is done by ICCS.
Branin said monetary donations are accepted by all three agencies, and there is a new system to process them online with a credit or debit card at www.suu.edu/uc/cec/holiday-assistance.html. She said donors later receive a receipt in the mail to use for tax purposes.
Branin said that towards the end of the season they use the monetary funds to help “Iron County Holiday Assistance” fill in gaps in whatever area there is a shortage in that year. She said “Toys for Tots,” who also runs their own Christmas program through the US Marine Corps, helps to complete any last minute donations the group might need.
“We never know which age group is going to be shorted from one year to the next,” said Toys for Tots coordinator Jeff Lennert.
Lennert said he has a good system for collecting and distributing toys and it makes his job easier to be able to share the toys with other non-profits. While “Toy for Tots” helps individual families beyond the scope of “Iron County Holiday Assistance”, he said they coordinate with the local program during meetings throughout the season to make sure there aren’t any duplicate families.
“We have shifted to a system of not doing individual families one at a time anymore,” Branin said. “Having it set up as a holiday store has been a much more effective way of doing things.
“The parent or guardian gets to come and essentially shop for their child; it helps create a better match in the end, and gets the parents involved,” she added.
In previous years, Branin said they would have a family adopted, or try to sort donations and deliver them to each family one at a time. Not only was that method time consuming, but Branin said it was also hard to match children to items donated. She said that since there was not a personal relationship with the children they were helping it was difficult to know what they would like, and the new system eliminates that issue.
Branin said that before the “holiday store” is opened all donations are sorted and then arranged by type and size, and then she said participants actually choose the gifts their children will receive.
“Families receiving the gifts have appreciated doing things this way,” Branin said. “And Wal-Mart has appreciated this too, because it means people are trying to return things less.”
Distribution dates are Dec. 9 – 12, and both Branin, and volunteer center coordinator Amy Brinkerhoff said that volunteers are still needed to help sort, organize and oversee distribution at the holiday store.
“Volunteers are needed at the holiday store,” said Branin, “And we especially need Spanish speaking volunteers on Tuesday the tenth.”
For privacy reasons volunteers who work at the store during pickup hours must be over 18 to help Branin said, but youth volunteers can help in other ways if they are interested.
Brinkerhoff said the last day for “Angel Tree” donations is December 14, and there are trees spread throughout Cedar City and Enoch for the convenience of those who wish to help.
“It’s kind of early,” Brinkerhoff said. “But everything is still needed.
“There is usually a shortage of teenage gifts – that’s a group that usually gets missed a lot,” she added.
There are currently “Angel Trees” located at: Cedar City Offices, Enoch City Offices, State Bank of Southern Utah, Wal-Mart, Bealls, Township Professional Pharmacy, Sheldon Family Chiropractic and Crystal Inn, and Brinkerhoff said any stores interested in helping by putting up a tree
should contact her at the Volunteer Center of Iron County, (435) 867-8384.
Christmas help applications for Iron County Holiday Assistance will officially close on Dec 2, but until then those in need of help can go to www.suu.edu/uc/cec/holiday-assistance.html to apply.
Toys for Tots will continue to accept applications for help until Dec. 16 at toysfortots.org